Town criticizes tree cutting near Middlebury airport

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury officials will ask a state-hired contractor to correct what they said was a poorly executed plan to harvest around 30 pine trees in the town right-of-way along a portion of Forest Ridge Drive, a project aimed at improving visibility for pilots using the southern approach to the Middlebury State Airport runway.
Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner last month drew up a series of conditions for the harvest, including that:
•  The trees be removed at ground level, with stumps left in the ground.
•  “Disturbance to surrounding areas and soils be minimized.”
•  Damage to the understory — the layer of vegetation below the main forest canopy — in the harvest area be kept to a “minimum.”
•  Middlebury Tree Warden Chris Zeoli and public works officials be notified 48 hours prior to the start of work.
Zeoli told selectboard members on Oct. 10 that the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s sub-contractor for the job failed to meet the terms of the agreement. He said he was contacted only a day before the start of work on Oct. 6. He further alleged workers used two large pieces of equipment at the site, a sloped area that he said should have been treated more sensitively to avoid soil compaction and future erosion.
Workers didn’t limb the trees before cutting them, which resulted in smaller trees being uprooted when the larger ones were dragged down the slope, according to Zeoli.
He noted that in many cases, workers did not leave the tree stumps, which is likely to affect the stability of the site.
“The trees were dropped every which way,” Zeoli said.
“The job was done at the cheapest level,” he added. “I was not happy.”
Removal of the trees is part of a larger Middlebury State Airport runway improvement project that raised several concerns among neighboring residents. The trees in question have provided somewhat of a buffer between the neighborhood and an adjacent gravel pit, some residents argued during project planning.
Zeoli has conveyed his concerns to project engineers from the company McFarland-Johnson. The company is considering bringing in some new soil in an effort to correct the disruption caused by the work. Town officials and project managers are drawing up a contract for some site remediation.
But Zeoli lamented the fact that some of the damage is not correctable.
“There is nothing they can do about damage to the understory,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at  [email protected].

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